It was late afternoon and Bally's Fitness Center was still fairly quiet. Jeremy figured he had time to do a couple more reps of crunches on the incline board before he called it quits, showered and changed into his work uniform.

Five days a week after school the teen would travel - either by bike or bus, depending on the changeable Chicago weather - from Lincoln Park High School to Bally's in the Century Mall on Clark Street. He would exercise and workout before clocking in for his after-school job as a receptionist at the gym's front desk. From 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Jeremy Sloan greeted the members who represented a cross-section of residents of this trendy, North side neighborhood. At this hour the clientele was mostly younger executives-to-be of both sexes, students and the older gym rat crowd. Although the hourly pay was fairly minimal, the fringe benefit of a complimentary membership was a big plus for him.

The small take-home pay he got weekly was not the 17-year-old's money stash to buy "stuff" for his amusement. Except for a meager allowance he kept for himself, the rest went into the household account to help defray his family's living expenses. Ellen Sloan, Jeremy's mom, was permanently unemployable due to a disability from an accident at a factory where she had worked three years earlier. The young man's wages, plus his mom's small, monthly disability insurance payout and older sister Naomi's similar contributions, were enough - just enough - for the family of three to survive. Ellen's brother, Winston, had also helped out until his untimely death a year ago.

* * *

Jeremy's dad, barely more than a sperm donor, vanished before the boy was born and left Ellen without any means of support for her birthing needs. Not an easy situation for an unmarried young woman with a daughter just two years old and a baby on the way. Her parents were poor farmers from Indiana and could barely survive on their 200 acres. The absent father's family lived in Iowa but had cast away the philandering son years ago. They wouldn't embrace the idea of welcoming a bastard grandchild into their lives or assuming any responsibility of support. Brother Winston, however, came to the rescue - as he had done many times before - and somehow handled the financial bills that mounted in the delivery of the healthy nine-pound baby boy. He also helped take care of the young family's living expenses. Winston, referred to as Uncle Win by the family, was the only father figure that Jeremy and his sister Naomi would ever know.

When Jeremy was five years of age, Uncle Win started bringing another man with him on the frequent evening visits to the family's 'railroad' apartment: a narrow floor-through off Fullerton Street that backed up to the 'L' trains. Ellen, with help from a neighbor woman and the two men, managed to juggle raising two children while working a full-time factory shift. It was only a matter of time before Jeremy and Naomi started thinking of the other man as Uncle Karl. The mother counted her blessings that her brother and his 'special' friend looked after their needs.

Win and Karl monitored the two children at every step of their growth and development. With Ellen's backing, the 'uncles' encouraged the siblings to respect school, homework and other people. During the week, it was understood that the television would be off after 7:00 p.m. to allow for studies or reading books that were age-appropriate. Weekends were planned for family outings or, for Jeremy, some organized sporting event, whether it was football, basketball or baseball. The two adult men would often let their nephew bring along a friend to one of these games. Through grade school, the boy gradually grew in size and popularity; he wasn't one of the 'A' list kids but Jeremy did have a loyal group of buddies. He didn't stand out in team sports but neither was he one of the last guys picked in gym classes. However, in academic achievement Jeremy did excel and graduated to middle school with honors...just as his sister had two years earlier.

As kids grow older, their perspective of life changed to accept new experiences: some planned, others accidental. Quite unplanned one evening, when Jeremy was 12 years old, was a surprise that caused him to become abruptly aware that his two uncles were more than just close friends. It was a spring weekend and he was spending Saturday night at Uncle Win and Uncle Karl's apartment so that his mom could have some personal time to herself. Naomi had accepted a sleepover invitation with six other teenage girls from her class.

Jeremy had almost dozed off on the sleeper couch in the den when he heard scuffling and grunting noises coming from Uncle Win's bedroom. Jeremy became alert and curious about the sounds and feared that there was a problem. He pulled back the blanket and quietly swung his legs over the side. The activity didn't lessen; in fact the sounds became more pronounced. In the hallway, he saw Uncle Karl's bedroom door open and the bed unoccupied. Further down, the sounds became louder: groans and the rustling movement of bodies were coming from Uncle Win's bedroom.

As the boy approached to his uncle's partially-open door, he heard the two men almost growling with words like "fuck," "yes," "cocksucker" and "deeper" coming from each man's breathless mutterings. He hesitated before looking into the bedroom. There, on the uncovered bed, were his two uncles in what appeared to be some sort of violent wrestling positions. 'Whoa,' he thought, 'this is really strange. Why are, trying to hurt each other?' Jeremy pushed the door open wider so he could better observe this strange behavior. With some lit candles, a night-light and a full moon shining through the window, it wasn't difficult to make out the activity. He stood there, in his briefs, and slowly understood that his uncles weren't wrestling or hurting each other.

"Oh, Christ," one of the men uttered. They had hit a point of physical climax and Uncle Karl was lying on top of Uncle Win.

'Oh, man,' Jeremy thought. He was paralyzed with a mixture of shock and fascination. 'I got a funny feeling that I shouldn't be here.'

"I love you..." Karl said, almost inaudibly, before he kissed Win.

"Ditto, Babe." Win reached up to nuzzle his head under Karl's arm when he looked over at the door and saw the silhouetted form of his young nephew. He became rigid for a moment and said, "Um, it looks like we've got company." He reached up and quickly moved Karl to the side.

"What the..." Karl grunted as he rolled over. When he recognized Jeremy, Karl hastily reached over and grabbed enough of the bed sheet to cover his sweaty, moist, excited groin area.

'I definitely shouldn't have come here.' Jeremy's mind was racing as the images of two adult males - Uncle Karl with a boner and Uncle Win with his legs spread widely - shuffled around to see him better. 'Did Uncle Win take that, er...Uncle Karl's thing up his...' All he could think of was the neighbor's bitch dog and how she continually got sniffed and diddled in the back yard of their building by the various, roaming male dogs.

"Hey, Buddy. Are you okay?" Win asked in a soft but firm, concerned voice.

"I, ah...I heard strange noises and, um...came to see what was happening. I thought some robber had come in your apartment. I, er, I'm sorry...Uncle Win. I didn't mean're not mad are you?"

"No, Son, definitely not mad. Ah, why don't you go to the kitchen and warm up some milk. Enough for all of us to have some hot chocolate. I think the three of us need to have a little family conference." Win maintained the level of his voice and projected the love he felt for his nephew. "Give us a few minutes to throw on our robes and we'll join you."

"Um, okay. I'll see you in a few," Jeremy replied with a mixture of uncertainty and relief. He turned around and walked down the hall to the kitchen while hearing uncles' voices fade away behind him. 'Jeez, I've seen more than I think I ever wanted to,' he thought. 'Does this mean that, ah, my uncles, um, do it to each other? They're queer? Fairies?' He cringed his own use of those words. In all the discussions he had had with Uncle Win, Jeremy had always been taught not to use slang words or terms that would make others feel bad. 'Demean, I think was the word he used.' They insisted that both children respect the rights of others...whatever their race, religion and other things that may be different about someone. 'I guess this falls under the heading of different.'

He opened the fridge and reached for a carton of milk. He poured the milk into a large glass measuring cup, opened the door of the microwave, placed the contents inside and closed the door. Jeremy set the timer for one minute and hit the start button. While the milk was being nuked, he reviewed what he had just seen. 'I suppose it's what we're going to talk about,' he thought when Uncle Karl's stiffie came into his mind. 'Man, what a whopper...and all that hair.' He shook his head and smiled at the remembered sight. 'Yikes. Uncle Win likes that up his...wazoo?'

Jeremy had heard older guys at school talk about "butt-fucking." He hadn't thought too much about it other than imagine that it was similar to what he'd seen the dogs do. The microwave beeped and he opened the door to test the temperature of the milk. 'Just right,' he decided.

"Let me help you," Win said as he walked into the kitchen.

"I'll get the cocoa if you want to get the cups," Jeremy replied. He turned and saw the smiling faces of his two uncles. Both were barefooted and wore terrycloth robes.

"Deal." Win placed his hand on Jeremy's shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze.

He watched his uncles - the two most important men in his life - reach for the cups and place them on the kitchen table as he found the cocoa mix. The men sat down and Jeremy silently spooned out portions of cocoa. He then brought over the hot milk and carefully poured it into each of the three cups before sitting down to join them. 'Oh, man. Maybe I'm not in trouble.'

"Jeremy, there's no way we can avoid talking about what you saw a little while ago between Karl and me." Win paused, stirred his hot chocolate, and continued, "Don't worry about anything being your fault. And neither of us are mad."

"Um, I'm sorry for, ah, seeing you guys. I wasn't snooping...honest. I heard strange noises and thought, um, you know...that you were in trouble." Jeremy brought the cup of hot chocolate to his lips and carefully sipped while looking down at the table. 'Oh, please, God, get me through this.'

"It was my fault for not closing the door," Karl replied. "I effed up, clear and simple."

"Well, you're turning 13 next January; so I guess that it's time that Karl and I have the good old 'birds and bees' talk with you very soon," Win said with a friendly chuckle. "But we hadn't planned on discussing, um, this sexual stuff between men and women for a while."

"Looks like we need to give him an explanation about us, first?" Karl looked to Win and raised his eyebrows.

I guess you figured out that your two uncles are really close?" Win asked.

"I knew you were best friends and, um, Mom always treats you two like you're a couple. I, ah, never thought about, you know..."

"Have you heard your friends talk about two men - or women, for that matter - who, um, are more than friendly?" Karl asked with a serious look. "You know, two people of the same sex who have, ah, the hots for each other."

"I've heard those words, ah, queer, fairy, homos...stuff like that. But usually the guys are just joking with each other. There's one boy in my homeroom that's kind of a sissy...but he's just kinda left alone. I, um, are you guys...ah..." Jeremy started blinking rapidly as he reviewed what he just said. 'Oh, crap. They must hate me for saying those things.'

"Thanks for being honest, son. Those words and worse are things you'll hear a lot. Gay is the word that generally is accepted for guys like who are attracted to other men. I guess you know what that word is?"

"Ye...yes, Sir."

Win looked at Jeremy intently before sipping the hot chocolate. "To answer your question; Karl and I are gay...and are a committed couple. We have been together for, um, six years."

"And will be for a long time," Karl added. "Do you understand what we're telling you?"

"I know that two men can't be least not that I know of. So, ah, you're like two people who are together but haven't gone through the stuff with the church?" Jeremy looked at the two men that he loved like fathers and tentatively smiled with a wistful expression.

"Or the stuff with the city or other governments in Illinois. Maybe down the road; just not right now. Some people say that 10% of the population is gay. Others figure that the number is half that. Point is: gay people are born this way. I don't know why, just is. Karl and I, and the gay population in general, didn't have a choice. These are things you'll be studying in high school or college some day." Win took a deep breath and added, "I was very lucky to find someone like Karl. He makes everything worthwhile."

"I can see how special the two of you are to each other. was right in front of me and I didn't see it. I think that I've got quite a bit to learn about life," Jeremy said as he nervously squirmed in his chair. "So, what, um...what about what was going on in there?" He motioned his head toward the hallway and bedrooms.

"Bud, this is a little advanced for a guy your age. Can we just say that what we were doing was a physical expression of the love we have for each other? Very similar to a man and woman." Karl leaned back in his chair and wiped his brow.

"Um, then who's the man and who's the woman?" Jeremy asked with innocent curiosity. His uncles had always encouraged him not to hold back in their discussions...about anything. 'Man, I hope I didn't ask anything that shouldn't be mentioned.'

"Actually, that's a good question," Win replied. "The best answer for now is that we're both men and what we were doing - and make no mistake about it...we were having sex - is something that two men who love each other enjoy. I don't think that we need to get into the mechanics of it right now, Jeremy. Let's save that conversation for later this year. I think we first need to discuss how our bodies function after puberty. And then, cover all the bases about sex between a man and woman - very soon."

"That's probably going to be more up to my speed," Jeremy said with a slight grin. "But I guess I should know about what happens on both sides. Um, you know, what guys do."

"Karl, our nephew is growing up and we need to get him in the groove about a lot of things." Win winked at his partner and stroked his arm.

"You're going to meet guys who are gay in your school, or scouting, or church, or a number of different places. Probably you already have and just don't know it. The sissy you mentioned...guess what, he might not be gay. He may just be somewhat effeminate and could be the biggest, pussy-sniffing stud in the universe." Karl laughed loud and patted Jeremy on the back. "That may be a little gross. The point is, never judge a book by its cover. Gay people come in all shapes, colors, intelligence...although I must admit that most of my interior designer friends are, um, well..."

"Karl is just making a joke, obviously. But he's right. Looks and mannerisms can be tricky. Get to know people before you make any judgments. That's especially true when you start to get serious with girls."

"I get the picture...including pussy-sniffing," Jeremy said with a snicker and a yawn. "Don't worry, Uncle. I've heard that and a lot worse."

"Memories of entering my teenage years aren't all that distant. I remember the stuff guys your age talk about," Karl replied. "Maybe Win and I can clear up the real things from the B.S."

"That's a talk that I'm ready for." Jeremy yawned and added, "I guess that I'm ready to turn in. Thanks for helping me out." He got up from the table and individually hugged and kissed the two men. "Oh, one thing; please close the door next time."

"Get to bed, you scamp," Win said with a laugh. "See ya in the morning."

And that was the beginning of a new relationship between Jeremy and his two uncles. Before his next birthday, the three males in the family had several conversations about puberty, heterosexual sex, homosexual sex and a combination of both. No topics were off limits and - without details - Ellen knew her son was under the wings of two very loving uncles and being educated about the realities of a young male's curiosity. By the time he turned 13, Jeremy was prepared and anxious to move into the next phase of his young life.

Throughout this period, Ellen took on the responsibility to guide her daughter through the drama of growing breasts, puberty, wearing bras and menstrual periods. Naomi, in turn, always looked out for her younger brother and was able to give him some good advice from the standpoint of a female sibling two years older. She gave him pointers about traversing the social pitfalls at school for an emerging teen, which neither Mom nor the uncles could provide.

Another year passed and Jeremy's 14-year-old voice had moved from a clear soprano to a cracking, creaking mid-tenor range, to a mellow baritone. He grew another five inches in height and experienced that nerve-wracking pubescent period with his body. He was now a respectable but gangly 5' 11" and weighed in at 145 pounds. A few of his close friends explored jerking off together and had contests to determine who could shoot their ejaculation the farthest. Jeremy always found an excuse not to compete; he didn't want to expose his dick to anyone.

Jeremy was embarrassed by the way his penis had enlarged along with an abundant growth of pubic hair and a set of low-hanging balls - more than most of his other classmates. In P.E. class, he was always the first to dress for gym and never took a shower. One evening when he was with Uncle Win for an outing at the local pizza palace on Lincoln Avenue, the fact that Jeremy hadn't showered was pretty obvious. It was late spring and the weather was - for Chicago - very warm and sunny.

"Ah, Jer, I hate to mention it but you're kinda ripe tonight. Didn't you shower today?" Win had decided that his special name for his teenaged nephew was now Jer.

"Did this morning but I kinda, um, didn't have a chance after gym class." Jeremy shifted a little in his chair and sub-consciously leaned over to check out his armpit area. "Phew, I guess you're right. I am a little ripe."

"If this was the first time, I wouldn't mention it. But I've noticed this before and so has Karl. What's the deal with no shower after gym? Are you embarrassed about getting undressed in front of the rest of the guys? You know, having, ah, a small dick is not a big deal. It's how you use it," Win said with a smile. "Are you afraid that the others will make fun of you?"

"As a matter of fact...yeah, I guess I am embarrassed. But it's, um, kinda the other way around." Jeremy looked at his uncle and shrugged. "I'm actually pretty big...for my age...down there. I don't want to be called any names like donkey dick, and, well, you know..."

"I know exactly," Win replied with an understanding nod. "It sounds like you've got the genes from our side of the family and it's either a curse or a blessing...depending on the situation. But I can almost guarantee that it'll be a plus in your life, if not now, then later on. Um, I know this is kinda personal and if you're too embarrassed to talk about it, I'll understand."

"We've never held anything back from each other. I...yeah, we should figure this out."

"Funny, I guess I haven't been in the bathroom with you for years. So you're all grown up down there?" Win paused and took a drink from his drink cup. "Your granddad was, ah, pretty well endowed. And, since we're being frank, I guess I should admit that I'm okay in the dick department. Let's say that Karl has never complained." He chuckled and continued, "If you don't mind me asking, how big are we talking about? Unless things have changed, guys your age are always measuring their penis in the privacy of their room."

"Well, no, I guess I don't mind. I need to talk to somebody cuz it's something I can't talk about with Mom or any of my buddies. Plus, you and Karl are my dads." Jeremy paused and took a deep breath. "Last week it was 'bout four inches soft and just under seven inches, um...hard. Jeez, this is a little embarrassing."

"As you guys say...chill. If I recall correctly, 25 years ago when I was your age, I measured about the same - something like that. Sounds like you've got the Sloan genes in spades. And, ahem, I think there's a little more room for growth," he said with a wink.

"Oh? You mean..."

"Don't worry, young Mr. Sloan. You're definitely going to be a stud...well, you are now, ya rascal. Don't you see that when you look at yourself in the mirror?"

"Um, not really. Guess I've been more concerned that those morning zits aren't too noticeable." Jeremy looked at his uncle and grimaced.

"The next time you take a shower at home, look at the whole've got nothing to be ashamed of. Christ, I think that I'll probably need to show you how to shave very soon." Win reached over and playfully rubbed Jeremy's almost whisker-free chin and added, "You're going to be starting high school this fall. Trust me when I tell you that there'll be plenty of older guys that are really, um, hung. That's the expression, by the way."

"So, um, I should just...go with the flow?" Jeremy was definitely sitting up taller. 'Hung? Hmmm, that's something maybe I could be proud of,' he considered.

"Exactly. Here's my advice for what it's worth. At the next gym class, just go about your business changing clothes and don't try to hide what you've got. I'm not suggesting that you swing it around, either," Win said with a grin. "This is something that's not going away and I suspect that some of the other guys will be a little jealous of you. You're just maturing a little faster...that's all. As far as the shower is concerned, just naturally soap up, rinse off and get dressed. Don't make a big, friggin' deal of it. Its just part of you and you're going to make some girl very happy some day."

"Or, guy?" Jeremy asked with a gleam in his eye.

"Um, yeah...or, guy. You think that you're heading that way?"

"Naw, I don't think so. Just keeping my mind open." Jeremy laughed and put his hand on his uncle's forearm. "But when I think of sex, it comes in all sort of packages." Jeremy wasn't ready to admit that he found a couple of the guys in his class kind of cute. On the other hand, he was very happy in his success attracting girl friends. 'God, is this a confusing point in my life, or what?' he wondered.

"Another thing. When your buddies get together to screw around the next time, don't be so uptight about joining them. Messing around is almost considered a rite of passage. And when they see what you're packing...and they will...there's going to be more than a few envious guys. Got it?" Win asked.

"Can't miss out on a rite of...passage." Jeremy leaned back and winked.

"Promise me that if you have any questions about sex and where you fit in...let's talk. We also need to go over a young man's responsibility and how to be safe. Unwanted babies are one thing; contracting a disease is another."

"For sure, Uncle Win."

The next couple of years were full of course corrections and experiences in Jeremy's young life. He did participate in a few circle jerks with the guys and was relieved that Uncle Win's prediction was 'spot on' after the initial good-natured jokes. One of his pals from childhood - Bobbie - became a secret jerk-off buddy at Bobbie's home after school. Both parents worked and Jeremy was able to get some quality study done with his friend during those late afternoons. He looked forward to the physical reward afterwards, before he had to go home. The intimacy and experimentation escalated: both boys were uninhibited with each other as they explored their sexuality. Individual jerking off led to 'you do mine and I'll do yours' with a willing hand around each other's erection.

While Bobbie's young manhood was pretty average in length, the girth amazed Jeremy. 'This is a friggin' beer can,' he thought with a smile as he gripped it and when through the masturbatory motions. Similarly, Bobbie was fascinated with Jeremy's large, flared mushroom-like glans. In the privacy of Bobbie's bedroom, they established private nicknames for each other: Can and Shroom. Bobby became bold enough to ask if he could experiment orally with Jeremy's hard manhood one afternoon. After some discussion and a promise that this was just about satisfying curiosity, Can was allowed to taste Shroom. Jeremy decided to return the favor - it had been the most startling orgasm in his young memory - and tentatively copied Can's movements. With the awkwardness out of the way, and assurances that this wasn't gay, Can and Shroom continued to satisfy each other for another year before girlfriends took over. Both were changing from being boys to becoming young men.

More emotionally charged and life changing was Ellen's accident at the factory. She inhaled toxic fumes from an explosion in the building where she worked as a packing inspector. The lasting disability was a collapsed lung and partial malfunction of the other that required her to be near an oxygen supply. This meant that Ellen Sloan could never work again or even perform simple functions: going to the market, lifting more than 10 pounds or walking up stairs required assistance. The family counted their blessing that the apartment was on the ground floor.

A year later, Uncle Karl became very ill on the losing end of the AIDS battle. It was only after Karl had a tremendous weight loss that Win admitted that they were both HIV-Positive. As always, the men counseled their nephew with a 'no holds barred' approach to the subject. They discussed the latest news concerning the evasive virus and instructed Jeremy on the various 'safe sex' actions and precautions that a young, healthy teen needed to practice. He admitted to his uncle one evening that, at this point, he only had been satisfied manually and orally by a couple of girls in his class when they went to the movies. Jeremy also revealed - for the first time - that he had experimented in the same manner with his childhood chum a few years back. Therefore, he believed he hadn't had sex yet.

"So, since when does a hand job or getting blown, whatever the mix of participants, not qualify as sex?" Win asked with a raised eyebrow. They were sitting in the living room of Win's apartment. Karl was lying on the couch with a throw blanket over him to keep warm.

"Since Monica and Clinton," Jeremy replied with a shrug. "Most girls don't consider that stuff as sex. Ah, I suppose it's the same with two guys."

"Jer, any time anyone - man or woman - has an orgasm, that's sex. Even going solo." Win slyly smiled and jerked his fist up and down.

"Oh, is that what you do?" Jeremy laughed and said, "I'm working to be an expert."

"Yeah, yeah...been there, done that. Still do," Win said with a shrug.

"Ewww. TMI, Uncle Win." Jeremy playfully patted Win's arm and winked.

"Seriously, I'm not going to be judgmental but please remember that sex will just get more difficult for you as you get older. Promise me that you'll always do one thing. When it comes to having sex with someone - boy or girl - always use a condom. Especially if you're, um, inserting yourself into someone. And if you're messing around with a guy, make sure you both are wearing protection."

"Yeah, yeah, Uncle Win. I understand; no babies or STD," Jeremy said a little half-heartedly. He had heard their preaching several times in the past.

"Yeah, yeah...bullshit, buddy. Babies or STD are just for openers." Karl's strength was minimal and he wheezed when he spoke. "I'm losing the battle with AIDS. This is definitely a 'no-win' situation for anyone and I don't want you to think, for one second, that you're some invincible superman. If your unprotected dick goes into any hole, you're rolling craps. Same goes if you decide to have sex with another guy. Please, please promise me that you'll always use a fucking rubber. I'm very serious." Karl started trembling and crying.

"Cross my heart, Uncle. I'll always use protection. I have the box of condoms you gave me at home and I promise that I will have some with me when I go out." Jeremy reached over and squeezed Karl's hand. "And if I ever do something with a guy - which is probably not likely - I'll make sure he's wearing one."

"Okay, message received. Win and I love you very much. You're becoming quite a stud and the temptations are going to increase over the next couple of years. You'll be 16 soon and ready for a driver's permit. I, um, don't think I'll see that day but, well...we both want you to enjoy a long, happy life."

"Uncle Karl, I love you very much and want to spend as much time with you as I can." Jeremy walked over and gave his honorary uncle and dad a tender kiss on the lips. "You and Uncle Win are the best."

"Enough of this Kum-Bi-Ya stuff. I love you too, kid. I'm just sorry that I won't see you become the man you're meant to be. Get down here and give me a real hug. I'm not going to break...yet."

That was one of the last conversations that the three guys had. Karl passed away shortly after that and Win threw himself at his work. He wanted to provide as much money as he could for his sister, niece and nephew before the virus claimed him. By the time Winston Sloan passed away, he had been able to set up a small trust fund for Jeremy's college education at DePaul to begin in two years, pay for his niece's nursing school education and give Ellen a lump $10,000 inheritance.